Stuve introduces Mignon Francois, founder and CEO of the multi-million dollar business: The Cupcake Collection, in this edition of Women Who Launch.
“I always thought I was going to be a surgeon. I even went to Xavier University of New Orleans to become a doctor but I just couldn’t apply the science to the human body. 17 years later, it ended up serving me in the kitchen when I started to learn how to bake and create recipes for The Cupcake Collection.” says Mignon Francois, the founder and CEO of The Cupcake Collection (TCC), an award-winning multi-million-dollar business and one of the top bakeries in the United States. Though Francois first turned to baking at a time when she was struggling financially, the entrepreneur has definitely turned things around. Aside from having queues at the door upon launching a new signature flavour, The Cupcake Collection has evolved into a real destination bakery with fans travelling from across the country to their locations in Nashville and New Orleans, to get a taste of what Francois and her team are cooking up next. For those who are unable to make the trek to their two locations, TCC delivers nationwide in the States as well. Menu items are split into cupcakes, cakes, and even pupcakes for pooches with a sweet tooth. Whilst it’s her sweet potato cupcakes that have been the talk of the town, other yummy delights include the sweet lemonade cupcake, the sprinkle surprise birthday cake, and the toddler favourite, the smash cake.
“Our bakery is housed in the place where I raised my children, and we treat every customer like our personal guest. They know our names and we take the time to get to know theirs too,” says Francois. “We encourage creating traditions and want people to know that there’s always a reason to celebrate: From the college student that studied over cupcakes for four years that’s now ordering for their graduation to the couple who fell in love over a cupcake date that’s now celebrating their wedding, these are the everlasting memories we create with our customers.” In this edition of Women Who Launch, I speak with Francois about how she found the energy to start a business in the middle of a recession, and her suggestions for where to go and what to do on a trip to Nashville.
You started The Cupcake Collection in the middle of the 2008 recession. How did you overcome the mental and financial obstacles to power through?
My faith is the most important part of my success. I worked on this business everyday like it was a job for two years before the store even opened, and I promised God that if He made me successful, I would tell anyone who would listen about what they could do if they believe! I have been through enough things in my life that weren’t always ideal but I never complained - I always looked for the lesson. Baking cupcakes was a way for me to save my family. We were already drowning in debt and brokenness, so this was one thing that actually worked. People were asking for it as quickly as I could make it. Putting the ingredients in the bowl and mixing it, making sure it didn't burn and handing it over to the customer was definitely the easy part compared to the other things that were happening in my life.
The cupcake business is a crowded space. How have you managed to create a strong brand that stands out amongst the competition?
At The Cupcake Collection, the product we sell is not the one you leave out the door with—we offer people joy and joy is not a tangible product that you can buy. Even down to the brand colours, we were very intentional about choosing an orange that exuberated joy—pink, frilly and bubblegum were never an option for us. Our flavours are elevated and pay homage to my New Orleans heritage. We believe that good cake is connected to great memories and our cupcakes take you back to a nostalgic time or place when you experienced something that was made with love—to us that equals joy, which is the main ingredient baked strategically into every single cupcake.
What was the inspiration behind the sweet potato cupcake and are there any new flavours you’re currently working on?
Sweet potatoes were never my thing until I had my children’s grandmother’s sweet potato pone. It was a hybrid between a pound cake and a pie and people loved it. Once I started my business, I wanted to create something that was my own but also a nod to her changing my experience with sweet potatoes. Now my original sweet potato cupcake has people coming from all over the world to take our #SweetPotatoChallenge and say it’s #SOYAMGOOD. I consider myself to be a food scientist so I’m always in the kitchen experimenting with new flavours and creations.
Is there anything you wish you knew before deciding to launch a business?
I wish I had known that failure wasn’t what I was afraid of, it was actually success. Because when it’s successful you have to show up every day and deliver even when you don’t feel like it.
What’s the one task you always outsource and the one task you always insist on doing yourself?
From the beginning, I immediately hired an accountant because I always want to be a good steward and pay what I owe. I used to think I had to have my hands in everything but after 14 years in business, I know that I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I surround myself with young people who I entrust to lead The Cupcake Collection on its next journey. With that, I do always want to have my hands on recipe development and creation.
Are there any entrepreneurs you look up to and why?
One of my mentors is marketing guru Donald Miller—his story is so amazing, compelling, and inspiring. The way he took charge of his life and went back to get other people so they can feel empowered to do the same is truly incredible. I went from being a fan to being invited to participate in a cohort he started working alongside him and other entrepreneurs here in Nashville.
How do you integrate the local community and culture in the way you run your business?
I really want to be able to pour back into my community and help others elevate their ideas and concepts, so strengthening my knowledge in business mergers and acquisitions is what I’m focusing on right now. I recently joined a brain trust here in Nashville lead by one of Nashville’s most brilliant entrepreneurs, Sherry Deutschmann.
What are some of your favourite Nashville spots for: dining, shopping, history, and culture?
I love to support other local businesses so my favourite places in Nashville to eat are The Chef and & I and Slim & Husky’s. My favourite boutiques are all local and women-owned: Emmerson Grace, Feminish Collection and M’Sha & Co Boutique. In my leisure time you can catch me at the National Museum of African American Music or attending a show at TPAC. I also love walking the trails on the Nashville Greenway!
The Cupcake Collection
1213 6th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37208, United States
2917 Magazine St Suite 102, New Orleans, LA 70115, United States